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Oregon lawmakers lower the bar for creating homeless shelters

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, has repeatedly pushed bills to lower the bar for creating homeless shelters.  She was chief sponsor of House Bill 2006.
Kaylee Domzalski
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, has repeatedly pushed bills to lower the bar for creating homeless shelters. She was chief sponsor of House Bill 2006.

For the second time in a year, the Oregon Legislature has approved a bill that lowers the bar for creating homeless shelters across the state.

In a 26-1 vote, the Oregon Senate on Monday approved House Bill 2006. The bill requires cities to approve proposed homeless shelters if they meet certain criteria, such as offering access to transportation, complying with building codes, and posing no health or safety threat.

As long as the standards are met, zoning rules or other planning regulations that can frequently stymie shelters will not be an obstacle.

HB 2006 now awaits a signature from Gov. Kate Brown, and will take effect once signed.

The bill is nearly identical to a provision that passed last June, when the Legislature met in a special session to take on COVID-19 relief and police reform. But the lower bar for shelter creation in that bill, House Bill 4212, expired in September 2020. In the meantime, Oregon’s housing crisis has only grown more dire in the face of a pandemic, record-setting wildfires and rising housing costs.

According to the state’s most recent count, “It’s estimated that nearly 10,000 Oregonians are without permanent housing on any given night, a number 37% higher than it was just six years ago,” said state Sen. Deb Patterson, D-Salem, who carried HB 2006 on the floor. “We can see it in our streets, on our corners, and we can see it in every part of the state.”

A state study released in 2019 found Oregon would need more than 5,800 additional beds to shelter its homeless population at the time.

“I believe that dramatic measures are necessary to meet the moment,” House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Portland Democrat and the bill’s chief sponsor, said in prepared testimony. “Our unsheltered homelessness crisis has only deepened, and so must our resolve to address it.”

The lowered threshold for homeless shelters that passed Monday will lapse on July 1, 2022, though shelters established under the bill will be allowed to remain open after that date. HB 2006 also makes it easier for cities to approve parking lots where people can sleep in their cars as a form of transitional housing and creates grant funding opportunities for organizations that want to create shelters.

State Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, was the only lawmaker to vote against the bill on Monday. He did not speak against the measure or offer an explanation.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for OPB. Before barging onto the radio in 2018, he spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter—much of that time reporting on city government for the Portland Mercury. He’s also had stints covering chicanery in Southwest Missouri, the wilds of Ohio in Ohio, and all things Texas on Capitol Hill.